Conference held to look at the links between homelessness and traumatic brain injury

Research completed by The Disabilities Trust Foundation has shown that 48% of homeless people in the UK have a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

  This compares to just 21% in the wider population. Significantly, 9 out of 10 report that they sustained their first TBI before they became homeless, suggesting that TBI could be a risk factor for homelessness.  A recent conference hosted by the University of Liverpool has been exploring the possible causal link between the two, according to a recent report in The Psychologist.  Steph Grant, a brain injury survivor with experience of homelessness, is now leading research in Sheffield looking at how and why people become homeless. Speaking at the conference Grant outlined how his research has led him to believe that people with TBI seem to fall through the gaps between services, partially because of the complexity of their needs, but also because of challenges in navigating the health and social services system. Writing in The Guardian he explains that “homeless people too often get bounced between drug and alcohol teams, re-housing schemes, accident and emergency units, and mental health services. Even if they are fortunate enough to have a sympathetic GP, a homeless person is still likely to be expected to attend a brain injury clinic at a scheduled time. Many won’t attend, and simply end up being discharged.” Grant also found in many cases brain injury is overlooked. Homeless people with TBI often present with challenging behaviour or drug or alcohol dependency, which mask the underlying injury. This has led some city councils to put the blame onto the homeless themselves. Grant argued: “Blaming the homeless people absolves councils of responsibility to do anything for them.”  Dr Stephen Mullin, a clinical neuropsychologist in the Leigh Infirmary Neurorehabilitation Unit, also speaking at the conference, highlighted that as with epilepsy (which homeless people are also more likely to have) TBI is an invisible condition that can cause: “a wide spectrum of different problems with language, perception vision, attention, concentration, memory and difficulties with executive and emotional functioning”. Mullin argued: “it is vital to raise awareness about why people may behave in a certain way and what kinds of extra assistance might help them to engage with services and cope with their injuries.” Grant concluded: “if services are to meet the needs of homeless people then they must be built with homeless people and, most importantly, must be provided where they are, rather than in clinics far removed from the everyday life of the person struggling with the effects of a brain injury. “In doing so, we can expect better longer-term outcomes for such individuals and find ways together to reduce the invisible cycle of homelessness and brain injury.”
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